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Ultimate Diet Guidance In Seven Words

Michael Pollan is a smart guy who has summed up what a lot of smart people have been saying for a while now. Forget everything new that various commercial industries are revealing about diet, pay no attention to the trend du jour, and focus on the basics. It all boils down to… wait for it…

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

clip_image001Michael does a great job of breaking this down more in his 2007 article from New York Times Magazine. A key point he spends some time making is that “food” is what humans should eat. Brilliant! The key to that is taking the common sense approach to recognizing what is real food vs. what is processed foodstuff product. Natural foods, the kind of thing your great grandmother would actually recognize as food on first site, lead the way.

Sports nutrition tends to get complicated but can certainly rely on this advice to a great degree as well. Natural foods tend to provide good balance in general across nutrient groups and “plants” (fruits and vegetables) are certainly recognized as important parts of an athlete’s diet. Convenience and access may drive slightly different behavior in special circumstances, since it is difficult to carry a basket of fruit along during a marathon, but outside those special cases natural foods (mostly plants) are a good basis for any diet plan.

Backyard garden, farmers market, etc. are great resources. What are your tips for finding “food”?

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Six Ways To Spice Up Your Run

Happy National Running Day - June 3rd!  This inaugural event is a national initiative between major organizations within the running industry to promote running as a healthy form of exercise. Lace up your shoes and get out there!

In honor of National Running Day, for those of you that might be in a running rut or new and not that into it yet, consider some of these tips to make those miles more enjoyable.

Get Going With A Goal: The more permanent the goal is the better. Instead of just thinking you’d like to run faster, sign up for a local race. Having a race as a goal makes you accountable to get out there and do it. There are several free training plans on-line (check out Hal Higdon’s site as a classic example). These not only get you to your goal distance, but they also tell you exactly what you need to do each day of the week.(cc) Aarmono @ Flickr

Time Flies With Tunes: To make the miles go by, consider running with music or listening to podcasts or audio books. Music is great no matter how far you go, but if you’re training for a longer distance, you can download a podcast and learn something along the way.

Pace With A Pal: Find a running buddy. Many towns have running clubs that consist of runners of various paces. You can just hook up with a group that runs your pace and you’ll become fast friends over the miles. Another option is to run with your kids. Even if you run one or two miles with them close to home and then finish the run on your own, you’ll both get a lot out of it. And there’s always the family dog as a companion. Guaranteed to keep pace with you and remain quiet the whole time!

Location, Location, Location: Another way to spice up your run is to try a new location. Running on a tree-lined path or in a new subdivision in your neighborhood always offers something interesting to look at. And if you’re just having trouble fitting the run into the day, think about running to your child’s sport practice or running on your lunch hour at work.

Rotate Your Runs: To improve your running pace as well as keep your workouts balanced throughout the week, try varying your run. For example, if you’re going to run three days per week, try a long, slow distance one day, a tempo run another day and a speed workout the third day. Your times will improve and you’ll find yourself getting psyched up for each day’s run since you have an exact plan. To determine how fast these different runs should be, check out these Runner’s World calculators.

Stride with Style: One more running incentive is to spruce up your workout wardrobe. It’s amazing what a hot pair of sunglasses, fashionable tank top or new pair of running shoes can do to inspire you. When you look good, you feel good, too.

Running is a great way to stay fit, lose weight, and challenge yourself physically and mentally. Above all running should be fun, so relax and enjoy it!

What tips do you all have for boosting motivation when the miles start to seem monotonous? What spices up your runs?

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Adding Aero bars to Your Race Bike

After much apprehension, I put aero bars on my bike this year. I remember a friend getting used to them last summer and often riding with one arm down in position and the other one at a 90° angle with her hand on the brakes at all times. Let’s just say this position was not exactly aerodynamic!profile design t2 aero bars 2

Many people told me I would love these bars once I had them. I figured that the worst case would be to put the bars on and then never use them. So I dropped $140.00 (including installation and customization) and had the Profile Design T2+  bars installed. As expected, I felt a bit unsteady at first, particularly when out on a windy day. A big gust of wind really tests your ability to control the bike. It reminded me of first learning to drive when you discovered that a slight turn of the wheel resulted in a big response from the tires. Being more forward over the front tire requires using your forearms more to control the bike. To my surprise, though, I liked how the bars felt.

The next outing had me increase my 10-second stints in the aero position to more like a minute at a time. It really only took a few more times out for me to feel very comfortable in the aero bars. I think the more challenging aspect was getting into and out of the bars. Even so, that came with relative ease.

Once I felt very comfortable in the bars, I would spend long stretches of time in them. However, I soon developed pain on the inside upper section of both my knees (inflammation of the medial patellar femoral ligament.) I went back into the bike shop and had my seat raised a bit and also moved slightly forward. These small tweaks made all the difference in the world! One thing I have learned over time is not to be afraid of taking the bike in to people who know what they’re doing. I’m glad I was smart enough to let them make the adjustments than for me to guess at the right changes to make.

Now that my bike fit is perfect, the aero bars are even better than anticipated. If you’re on the fence about adding aero bars to your bike, I would highly recommend it. They aren’t as intimidating as they look, they will make you faster, and you can cruise along for long stretches of time in a very comfortable position.

Anyone else on the fence about aero bars? I may look at getting gear controls on the aero bars next. Thoughts?

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Do I need to run a marathon?

Is it just me, or does it seems like everyone is running a marathon these days? This time of year there are often conversations at parties that somehow come around to marathon training. Oftentimes, the most unlikely of people have begun their training. I guess it’s a sign that more people are trying to stay in shape, although my crude statistical analysis at the mall the other day would suggest otherwise. But the question is, is the marathon the standard by which all other running races are judged?NYC Marathon-cc-Martineric

As many runners would agree, doing the LSD run is much more enjoyable than cranking out mile repeats at the local track. That is not to say that running a marathon is just like a long, slow run. Many people I know race a marathon and it takes a ton of effort mixed with a little bit of insanity. But I think a lot of respect has to be given to the person who pushes themselves week after week doing ladders or 800s in order to get a PR in a 5K or 10-miler.

Of course the reason I ask about the marathon is because it’s pretty much the one distance I have not done yet in my running career. I competed in high school and college in both cross country and track. And I have run countless road races of varying distances over the 20 years I have been out of college. But the one question I get asked is, “did you run a marathon.” When I tell the inquirer I haven’t, they almost seem disappointed and sad for me as if to say “it’s too bad you couldn’t hack it.” This is inevitably followed up by the need to know why, which is then followed by the spewing of the list of everyone the person knows who *has* run a marathon.

Yes, I know I shouldn’t let this bother me, and I tell myself that often. But the reality is, it DOES bother me. I want to tell the inquisitor (who, by the way, usually can’t even run around the block) how tough it is to run a shorter distance at a fast pace, but they wouldn’t get it, nor would they care. Every distance is difficult in its own way.

The reality is, I have been curious about the marathon distance for a long time. I have been having a good running season, my kids have gotten a bit older, and I had several friends run Boston this year. So I bit the bullet and signed up. Honestly, I am still not entirely sure I’ll make it to the starting line. I don’t know if I have the innate desire to do it. I still want to bike and swim at full intensity and know I’ll have to give some of that up to get those miles in. The funny thing is, if I do the race and can answer “yes” to that inevitable marathon question, I’m sure another question such as “did you do an Ironman” will come up. This just goes to show you that you have to do all of this for yourself!

Anyone else not yet run that next big race (marathon, Ironman, etc.) and having similar thoughts?

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Ideal Weight for Racing

It’s that great time of year when we’re all eager to get out there and get moving. Hopefully this winter you connected more with the gym and less with the couch, but we all know how motivating wet snow and darkness at 4:00 p.m. can be. Perhaps you packed on a few pounds during the colder months or just aren’t at your fighting weight at the moment. Besides aesthetics, how much does this really matter?scale-cc-vividBreeze

According to a Runners World article by Amby Burfoot, apparently a few pounds can mean a lot. Obviously, the first step is to decide if you need to lose weight at all. To get an accurate reading of your weight, you can check out the weight/height charts, body mass index calculators or get your body fat measured. If you determine that you could spare a few pounds, you’ll be interested to find out how much a 2-pound, 5-pound, 10-pound or 20-pound weight loss would affect your run times. For example, a 5-pound weight loss translates into a 5K time that is 31 seconds faster, a 10K time decreases by 1:02, a ½-marathon is faster by 2:11 and a whopping 4:22 is cut off your marathon time. If this isn’t incentive to put down the Oreos, I don’t know what is. To find out more, go to Amby’s article.

If you’d like to amuse yourself and find out what times you *could* be running if you were a different age and weight, check out this article by a physiologist named Paul Vanderburgh. Vanderburgh conducted a study that took age, gender and weight into account when calculating run times for various race distances. He calls this the “Flyer Handicap Calculator.”

Like many of the race prediction calculators, you can have great fun putting in slightly different numbers to see how the result is affected. I put in my most recent ½-marathon time, along with my age, weight and gender, and it determined that I could have run the race 15 minutes faster if I was 25 years old and 110 pounds. I am well past 25, and heavier than 110 pounds. I don’t know exactly what you’re supposed to do with this information. After all, do we have to be reminded of how much we’ve slowed down as we’ve aged?

In the end, you’ve got to do what’s best for you. For me, a good meal and special dessert is often a reward for my hard work. It may not make me five pounds lighter, but it definitely keeps me coming back for more.

What weight goals have you added to your training plan? Have you noticed a difference competing at different weights? Comment here, I’d love to hear about it!

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Great Western Half Marathon – Race Story

There are only so many things you can control when preparing for a race. The list of uncontrollable variables such as weather, interruptions in training for various reasons, injuries, etc., goes on and on. So it was with great joy that it all came together for me today. I was confident that I did all that I could do, and it seemed like those issues that I couldn’t control became fewer and fewer.GWHM-Race Composite

The Great Western Half Marathon is a 1000 person race out west of Chicago. The out and back course follows a bike path and starts and ends in a forest preserve. It’s a good race for those in the area looking for a low-key run, and it’s a great kickoff race for the spring.

The last time I did this distance was four years ago and I bonked so badly that I had to stop at a bush to dry-heave. All-in-all, a pretty tough day! I’ve done many races since then, but developed a phobia about this particular distance. I knew I was much better prepared this time around, but a little voice in the back of my head kept reminding me of that last difficult outing.

When I woke up to the sun and 51°F with very little breeze, I was encouraged. I had a goal time in mind and with the weather on my side, it suddenly seemed a little more doable. When I got to the race, I was able to score an excellent parking spot (and I was quite amused to see the parking attendants riding mules to direct people!). The next positive sign was the short line for the port-a-potty – a definite perk. I did a 10 minute warm-up and then some strides and felt good. I lined up at the appropriate pace sign and waited to take off.

Once we started, my biggest challenge was holding myself back. I knew I had to stay on pace in order to accomplish my goal, but as with most races, I just felt so great at the beginning that I wanted to take off. I started with a few people I knew, but since they were targeting about 15 seconds per mile faster than my goal pace, I resisted the temptation to go with them.

Since this race was a straight out and back, I was anxious to see the first place runners after the turn-around at 6.5 miles, especially the women. Once the first runners started approaching, I began counting. Exactly how many women were in front of me? My typical goal is to get in the top 5 - 10% of women in a race. I saw the first two who obviously workout together. They were totally in synch stride for stride. After them there was a big gap of maybe a minute or so, then number three came along. I kept counting past 10 and discovered that I was #16. I was relatively happy with my position. Of course, who doesn’t want to pass just one more person?!

In true race form, I kept my eye on #15. At some point, two women passed me and suddenly I was #18. Because I was getting tired, I told myself that being in the top 20 would be sufficient. However, after mile 10 came and went, I still felt good. It was time to reclaim my 16th spot. My plan all along was to stay on pace the first 10 miles and then push it the last two or three. Mile 11 was 20 seconds faster than race pace. I managed to pick off the woman with the pigtails that was 20 feet in front of me since mile 2, as well as the woman in the coordinating racing skirt and top. I had moved back up to #16.

It was time to see what I had left in the tank. Mile 12 was up hill but otherwise just another mile. I managed to crank it up a bit and went 35+ seconds faster than race pace. I was about three seconds away from passing #15, but couldn’t quite catch her. I cruised that last .1 and ultimately finished in 1:43.19 - 1 minute and 40 seconds faster than my goal time. I ended up fourth in my age group. The best part about this race is that I felt so good and so confident from start to finish. My curse has been broken! I even found out later that my time qualified me for a closer starting corral for the Chicago Marathon in October.

It’s so great when it all comes together like it did for me today. We all know that this is not always the case. As with many things, we have to look at our successes and failures over time. But days like today keep you coming back for more. For me, that means more pool and saddle time and the start of triathlon season!

What are your race stories? I’d love to hear how everyone else is doing lately!

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Piriformis Problems - A Pain In The Butt

Training injuries seem to spread like epidemics in my experience for some reason. A friend has an IT band problem and suddenly I hear about three others with the same issue. My plantar fascia implodes and four other people come up with the same problem.cc http://www.flickr.com/people/mugley

This time around my husband and a couple other running teammates I know are dealing with piriformis issues. This was a new one to me but here is what I’ve learned.

The piriformis is a muscle deep under the glutes, connecting the base of the spine to the femur at about the crease below the gluteus.  It is involved in outward leg rotation. A tricky aspect of the piriformis is that the sciatic nerve either runs past it or in about 15% of people it runs through it. Inflammation of the piriformis tends to aggravate the sciatic nerve so in addition to muscle pain you can get the ever-so-popular shooting pain or numbness down the leg or in the back.

The piriformis can get strained or injured in all the usual ways, i.e., changes in gait, no stretching, bad shoes, etc. The recovery recommendations follow the usual prescription of R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, elevation, talk to a doc). However, after talking to people who are dealing with it right now, I found out a couple of interesting twists to this. One obvious problem is that it hurts to sit on it. It seems to be a rare running injury where you want to stay ON your feet. A second issue is related to how you feel the pain and how you should really be stretching for it. For example, doing a modified hamstring stretch with a bent leg gets to the top of the back of the leg and may seem like it would hit the appropriate area since the pain is located there. The problem with this injury is that if the sciatic nerve is impacted, then where you feel the pain may not actually be the affected area.

The right kinds of stretches are those similar to glute stretches. The sites listed below have some more details and some good illustrations of the stretches. Talking to a doctor is probably a good idea as well. Once my husband started working the correct area, coupled with a little ice and anti-inflammatory medication, things started clearing.

http://www.thestretchinghandbook.com/archives/piriformis-syndrome.php

http://www.realbuzzrunbritain.com/articles/the-running-effects-of-piriformis-syndrome

http://www.marathon-training-program.com/running-injury-piriformis-syndrome.html

So I guess watch out for that pain in the butt!

Anyone else dealing with an outbreak of some interesting training injuries? I’d be interested in hearing about it.

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Triathlon Magazine Swimsuit Edition – Really?

As I scanned the mail that arrived yesterday, I skipped past the bills to the bottom of the stack where more interesting items usually lie. I was delighted to find this month’s issue of Triathlete magazine. I finally started subscribing to it after purchasing it for several months at the bookstore. But my excitement quickly waned as I gazed at the front cover. There seemed to be a disconnect between the picture on the cover and the fact that I thought I was receiving a somewhat serious magazine.

If you have not seen the magazine this month, consider this my spoiler alert. There is a picture of a woman in a small bikini standing on a rocky hillside. She is very muscular and the words “amateur triathlete” appear next to her name. The problem really comes in with the huge (read: obviously fake) chest and skimpy suit on this woman. Don’t get me wrong, she looks absolutely perfect. In fact, she just looks too perfect to be real. Was I reading Triathlete or Cosmo?IMG_1211 - edited

The ironic part about this picture is that there is a feature article in this month’s issue about triathletes being obsessed with their body image. In fact, right next to the bikini-clad model, in large type is the caption for the body image article. For a while, I couldn’t figure out if the picture of this woman was related to that article. It is not.

To make matters worse, it turns out this is the swimsuit edition of the magazine. The editor acknowledges that some readers will drop their membership because of this issue, but other will like it. I was trying to remain open-minded. I thought I might find some new, state-of-the-art wet suits or special streamlined swim suits. Unfortunately, these swimsuits were not aerodynamic in any way, nor would you wear any of them in a triathlon. In fact, the suits were modeled by mostly, well, models, not serious triathletes.

So what was the point of this issue? Was it to tell triathletes they shouldn’t be obsessed with their body image all the while showing off perfect model physiques? Was it to convince us that you can be fashionable and still swim effectively wearing small amounts of material? Or was it simply to sell more magazines? I’m not sure, but I think they should stick to telling me who won the latest big race or the run down on the hot new bikes for the year.

Is a swimsuit edition really necessary?!

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Speed Work - In and Out Mile

I run with a fun team on Thursday that is focused on speed work on the track. Our coach uses an interesting set of exertion levels to qualify each interval in a speed workout: “very fresh”, “fresh”, “good”, and “hard”. He focuses on feel to tune the workout to each runner rather than rely on specific times. This makes a ton of sense since target seconds per quarter or whatever distance vary wildly not only from runner to runner but also from day to day for each runner depending on fatigue, etc. Most workouts focus on varying intervals usually moving between “fresh” and “good” with “hard” being reserved for rare occasions.

Today’s workout was called an “In And Out Mile” and went like this:

Warm-up 2 miles “very fresh”
Workout 4×200m “fresh” with 100m jog restIn and Out Mile
400m fresh
400m good
400m fresh
400m good4×150m “fresh” with 50m jog rest
Cool-down 1 mile “very fresh”

The purpose of this set was to really get a sense of how the pace differs between the “fresh” and “good” pace. It was very interesting and really did give the sense of difference in the level of effort between the medium and hard pace levels.

Unfortunately, the track was packed with a bunch of kids and parents from other groups doing some school/club workouts. I had a hard time sticking on pace as well as I would have liked while dodging kids. The parents that were just standing on the track chatting were making me crazy and I nearly had some “fresh” words for them as I had to keep running around them. My mile ended up around 6:45. Slower than just a fast mile, but that was where it was supposed to be. I was targeting a five second difference in quarter time between “fresh” and “good” but the difference ended up more like 10 seconds (e.g. 1:46 vs. 1:34 for laps 1 and 2.) Many people in the group had 10 second gaps vs. five and we all attributed it to speeding up to get around the throngs of children. The difference between these two paces was very apparent. I have never looked forward to the dreaded third lap of a mile more than during this workout since it was “fresh.”

The body feel from those laps will now be the near term basis for upcoming speed work this training season. It was great to really get a sense of where those exertion levels are, back to back, and it should be fun putting that into practice in the coming weeks.

What other unique speed work training workouts have you all done lately or in the past?

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Boston Marathon 2009!

The firsthand accounts are trickling in and it sounds like it was a pretty good day for a marathon. The wind was somewhat of a factor and it was colder than last year but nothing like the nasty weather of 2007. Boston2009-cc-PaulKeleher

It was great to see a couple USA runners up near the front this round. Kara Goucher took 3rd for women and was the first USA woman in the top three in 16 years. (Kara is wearing the black sleeves in this photo taken around the halfway point by photographer Paul Keleher.) At 2:32:25 she was only 9 seconds from the closest 1,2 finish for women at Boston. Colleen S. De Reuck, also from the USA came in 8th at 2:35:37.  Ryan Hall from the U.S. took 3rd for men with a 2:09:40 and is expected to continue to develop at the world level.

Local friends we had out running did great. Margaret did an awesome 3:46 and said today that she was paying the price for that awesome time with some significant quad pain. Therese did an excellent 3:54 and a running team mate Lee did an great 4:19 after 32 marathons other marathons and 11 Ironman triathalons over the years.

Another team mate John had an interesting race and finished with a very respectable 3:38 despite finishing the race with a core body temperature of 90 degrees. A couple hours later and some warm drinks in the medical tent fixed up the hypothermia. Plus, since he ran slower than his normal blistering pace he was spared post race pain and fatigue. Maybe he’ll join Kara Goucher and try to get in the London race on Sunday!

Congratulations to all runners that were out there! They deserve more than the usual accolades for that race. For those that don’t have the background, the Boston Marathon isn’t just 26.2 miles in distance but is also a roller coaster ride of elevation torture. Starting out in the suburbs of Boston the race begins at around 450 feet in elevation above the finish. The first four miles treat the runners to a quad pounding, down, up, down hill trek. The next eleven miles are mostly level yet still rolling course with a significant drop at the end. Then the fun begins!

(check out http://www.baa.org/images/BostonMarathon/CourseMap.gif for a good elevation view.)

Starting around mile 16 the field is treated to a series of four serious hills, finishing with the infamous “Heartbreak Hill.” That five mile stretch take the course back up 200 feet in elevation, saps just about every remaining ounce of energy, and sets up for a long last five miles into downtown Boston. So again, congratulations to all!

 Any other first or second hand accounts? How was your race?

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